Getty Images

A Great Marriage Hack: Stop Judging (So Much). Start Wondering (More Often).

"Be curious, not judgmental." — Walt Whitman


If you're married and reading this, tell me something — if you were to ask your spouse, right now, to define how you make them feel within the marriage and they could only use one word, what do you think your partner would say? As someone who has sat across from countless couples, I'll tell you something that I hear more than I ever should — "My spouse makes me feel judged."

Because I'm about to break a lot of what judgment means in just a sec, let me just say in the intro that if you currently feel like there is tension or a disconnect or some sort of lack of emotional intimacy within your relationship, I wouldn't be shocked if it has, at least something to do with the fact that, one or both of you is feeling judged far more than either of you ever should. The good news is there is something that you can do to (semi) easily redirect that energy. Let's see what that hack is.

First of All, Judging Isn’t Automatically or Always a Bad Thing


I believe I've shared before that, if there's one thing that I was over, well before it ever really began, it's how folks act like judge (which is a five-letter word) is a four-letter word (a cuss word). Usually when people want to have this conversation with me about this, the first thing I say is, "If someone tells you that you are cute, guess what? They just judged you." I mean, beauty pageants and talent shows have judges and in those instances, to most, it's all good. What people don't like is correction and/or criticism. And that usually speaks to an issue of ego.

And before some of y'all bring in the Bible on this, like so much of Scripture that gets fractionated in order to make folks feel more comfortable (for example, people quoting that God will give them the desires of their heart without adding in the part where he says delight in him first or folks saying that he who is without sin should cast the first stone without adding in the part where Christ also said "go and sin no more" to the sinner), yes, Matthew 7:1 does say "Judge not, that you be not judged." However, Matthew 7:2 swings around and then says, "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."

This means that you should take into account that the way you judge someone is how you will get judged back — one way or another. Besides, Luke 6:37 states, "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" and Matthew 6:14-15 states, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" and still, people find a billion-and-one ways to justify why they shouldn't forgive others (hmm…). Let me stay on topic, though.

When you factor in what Matthew 7 says along with what John 7:24 instructs ("Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.") and then you stop to ponder the fact that judging literally means things like "acute discernment" (the Good Book is all over us needing to operate with discernment) along with "the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion" — I don't know how you are able to make sound and wise decisions in life unless you are able to make good judgment calls. And when you're married, I'm not sure how you can effectively hold your partner accountable — as they do the same thing for you; some folks conveniently want to overlook that part — unless some "judging" is involved too.

So no, I absolutely don't have a problem with judging or being judged. What does need to go on record is the fact that anything that's out of balance is problematic. Judging is not excluded. So, let's touch on that before I get to my overall and bottom line point.

Here’s Where Judging Can Go WAY Left, Though


Anything that isn't kept in check can get totally out of hand. Judging definitely applies. In fact, that's a part of the reason why I wrote "Are You His Partner Or His Second Mama?" for this platform because, the reality is, many people don't judge for accountability's sake; many do it in order to boss people around, act like they are better than others or — most importantly — to deflect from their own issues. And just how can you know that you are someone who falls into this kind of space?

  1. In your mind, your feelings are the facts. About everything.
  2. You're inflexible when it comes to other perspectives.
  3. You are hypercritical.
  4. You're constantly correcting (yet don't want to be corrected).
  6. You expect perfection from those around you (even though you want to be excused for your own faults and flaws).
  7. You constantly jump to conclusions.
  8. You're not a safe space for folks to share their vulnerabilities.
  9. You are short on patience and tolerance.
  10. Everything is black-and-white.
  11. You're unforgiving.
  12. You make statements more than ask questions (bookmark that one).

While all of this can certainly apply to everyone, regardless of their relational status, since we're dealing with marriage today, I'm gonna focus on it from that angle. That said, although there are plenty of articles out here that vouch for the fact that poor communication, financial challenges and a lack of intimacy are reigning reasons for why many marriages fall apart, I stand amazed by how few choose to touch on just how much being overly-judgmental can tear down an intimate relationship too.

For one thing, who wants to be in that kind of space all of the time — a space that puts you on eggshells, keeps you anxious and has you totally stressed out? If there is one place where these things shouldn't exist at a very bare minimum, it's in your home and within your marriage. Also, when folks signed up for "'til death do us part", no one wanted to marry a dictator or a second parent. Indeed, some folks really struggle with understanding that their spouse is not their subordinate or their child. And third, people don't grow in a space where they are constantly ridiculed or berated and if there is one thing that marriage should do, it should help both people to flourish — mind, body and spirit.

So yes, while I do think that a certain amount of judgment — again, based on definitions like "the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion" — is necessary, in both directions (don't "dish it" if you can't "take it"), in order for a husband and wife to grow, as individuals and a unit, if you know that you can check at least four out of the 12 things that I said, some things without your relationship and how you relate to your partner are totally out of wack. This means that you are doing more harm than good to your relationship and it's time to bring things back to the middle. And just how do you do that? This is where wondering comes in.

This Is Why the Act of Wondering Can Be a More Effective Approach


So, when I listed some of the signs that someone is too judgmental, do you recall how I suggested that you bookmark the 12th point? Boy, the way you can connect so much better with your partner when you make it a point to not tell them what to do or how to think (or what they are thinking) and instead, to ask questions — it really is like night and day.

Questions bring a respectful tone to the conversation. Questions bring forth clarity. Questions convey the message that you genuinely want to hear where someone else is coming from because you know that communication isn't just about you talking all of the time and not giving someone else the platform to be heard. And to me, questioning is a form of wondering because wondering is about curiosity and curiosity is about being eager to learn. And trust me, until you and your partner part (either by divorce or through death), there will always be something that you need to learn about them because they will always be transitioning and evolving.

And honestly, this is one more reason why being super judgmental can create a wedge between two people; it's because when you are constantly judging your partner, not only are you arrogantly conveying (even if it's subconsciously) that there is nothing else you need to learn about them or your relationship, you're also shutting down the path for your spouse to want to share more about themselves. In fact, when it comes to a lot of the couples that I've worked with where infidelity was an issue, having a judgmental partner (on the front end) definitely played a big role because, since the one who cheated felt like their spouse didn't want to learn more about their wants and needs, they found themselves gravitating to an individual who actually did. Yeah, that's another thing about being judgmental — it can damper your intimacy (physically and emotionally) because no one really finds that appealing or attractive.

​A preventative measure to avoid all of this is to judge less and wonder more.

You know, there is an author by the name of Betty Smith who described wonder in a way that I like a lot. She once said, "Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or the last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory." Remember when you and your man were first getting to know each other? It was difficult to be super judgmental because everything was so new and exciting. And while it is a bit unrealistic to expect you to return to that exact mindset, what I will say is every day is new and if you are being even a little observant, you will get that within each day is an opportunity to learn something new about your partner and/or take a new approach to the relationship.

For instance, ask him instead of telling him what he thinks; then don't listen in order to respond — listen in order to grasp his feelings, insights, perspectives, wants and needs. The "wonder of it all" can help you to become more embracing and tolerant as he becomes more trusting and comfortable (and vice versa).

Listen, I know husbands who have a super judgmental wife and wives who have a super judgmental husband. What they all have in common is it takes everything in them, on a daily basis, to not leave (I'm not exaggerating either). Just something to keep in mind if you think that judging over wondering is not "all that bad". Indeed, it is and I would hate for you to — pardon the pun — wonder if you should've taken this approach a lot sooner, once you realize that it may be too late.

Judge less. Wonder more. Watch how it blesses your marriage. Truly.

For more love and relationships, features, dating tips and tricks, and marriage advice, check out xoNecole's Sex & Love section here.

Featured image by Getty Images

Five months into 2022 and already it feels like it has been a year. New levels come with new devils (new stresses) and though we are proud of our accomplishments in the year so far, as a team, to say we aren't in need of a vacay is an understatement. A part of recovery from burnout includes being intentional about how we approach our self-care practices. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, the xoNecole team decided to put better mental health into practice. And what better way to prioritize our mental health and manage our stress levels than through the use of CBD products?

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

Last year, Meagan Good experienced two major transformations in her life. She returned to the small screen starring in the Amazon Prime series Harlem, which has been renewed for a second season and she announced her divorce from her longtime partner DeVon Franklin.

Keep reading...Show less

Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.

Keep reading...Show less

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

To be or not to be, that’s the big question regarding relationships these days – and whether or not to remain monogamous. Especially as we walk into this new awakening of what it means to be in an ethically or consensual nonmonogamous relationship. By no means are the concepts of nonmonogamy new, so when I say 'new awakening,' I simply mean in a “what comes around, goes around” way, people are realizing that the options are limitless. And, based on our personal needs in relationships they can, in fact, be customized to meet those needs.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews
Latest Posts